The 2016 FIA European Rally Championship rolls into Latvia for a new look Rally Liepaja. The gravel event, which was due to open the season as a snow rally, plays host to the penultimate round of the 2016 ERC season and it looks set to be a busy weekend for a number of competing crews.
Local man Ralfs Sirmacis has already demonstrated his ability to win at this level and will going for a home win in his Sports Racing Technologies Skoda Fabia R5. The local man has taken victory on the Acropolis Rally and Rally Estonia this year already, proving that he is not afraid to fight at the front even if it is his first full season in an R5 machine. The benefit Sirmacis has over his Polish rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz is that he doesn’t have the championship to worry about.
LOTOS Rally Team’s Kajetanowicz comes to Latvia knowing that three points will guarantee him his second ERC title but the Polish driver knows how easy things can go wrong, the engine issue that dropped him out of contention at the last round in the Czech Republic is testament to that. Alexey Lukyanuk comes to Latvia with a slim chance of stopping Kajetanwicz from winning the title. The Russian is reverting back to a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X due to budget restraints but he won in Estonia last year under similar circumstances. Frank Tore Larsen makes his second appearance of the season in his Fiesta R5 while Raul Jeets will hope to build on the two fourth-place finishes he has achieved already this season.
Łukasz Habaj and Jarosław Kołtun are expected to enjoy a good close battle in their Fiesta R5s while David Botka is hoping for a change in form after a run of bad luck in his Citroen DS3 R5. Tomasz Kasperczyk meanwhile will hope to make further progress after a strong home run on Rally Rzeszow and local Skoda Fabia R5 driver Raimonds Kisiels returns for an event he finished seventh on two years ago.
In ERC2 the top championship contenders Wojciech Chuchała, Giacomo Scattolon and Tibor Érdi are all present with series leader Chuchala looking to claim the title here in Latvia. The ERC Junior category is perhaps the most intriguing section heading into the weekend, when drop scores are taken into account Chris Ingram has a 14 point advantage over series rival and Opel team-mate Marijan Griebel, that means that a a maximum score for either driver will clinch them the title and the prize of a drive in an R5 car on the Cyprus Rally.
The pair will have their work cut out however as they have a lot of competition to overcome first, Nikolay Gryazin has proven he can compete at the head of this field and will certainly cause them problems, Estonian winner Miko Niinemäe returns and his gravel ability will mean he will certainly be in contention. Łukasz Pieniążek holds third in the standings but faces competition from fellow Opel Adam R2 driver Julius Tannert. Dominik Brož and Gustav Kruuda will also be out to make their mark, the field is rounded out by Joonas Tokee, Alex Forsström as well as Brit Catie Munnings.
The event gets underway with the Qualifying Stage and start order selection on Friday 16 September, there will be 13 stages and 203.6 competitive kilometres, focused around Kuldīga for Saturday’s first five stages before a return to Liepāja for two runs around a city stage at the new Great Amber concert hall. The rally concludes with six more tests on Sunday.